Sunny weather draws eclipse watchers to Maine from all over

By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli, Houlton Pioneer Times Staff

Sun and clear skies are on tap for Monday’s total solar eclipse in Maine, and that is prompting eclipse chasers to change their travel plans and head for the parts of the Pine Tree State that are best situated to see it.

The weather is why Eric Otterness of St. Paul, Minnesota picked Houlton as the site for his first eclipse experience.

“It’s the only place in the path of totality predicted to have good weather,” Otterness said on Sunday afternoon at the Maine Visitor Information Center, referring to the statewide forecast.

Otterness said he just recently retired and wanted to experience this once in a lifetime event.

Bangor Daily News photo/Troy R. Bennett
ECLIPSE COSTUMES — Sisters, from left, Charlotte Coffin, 10, Ava Coffin, 3, and Carter Coffin, 8, take part in a solar eclipse-themed costume contest at Mud Puddle Mercantile in Greenville on Sunday, April 7. Chloe Baker stands behind them, dressed as the sun, sporting eclipse glasses which were free with every purchase at the store.

“The next one is in 2044,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ll be here for that one.”

Houlton, the last U.S. stop along the path of totality, has been preparing for this event for nearly three years, and whether it gets 5,000 or the predicted 40,000 visitors, the town is ready with traffic plans, food trucks, porta potties, shuttle buses and six designated star parks for entertainment and eclipse viewing. 

The downtown eclipse headquarters was hopping on Sunday with visitors looking to buy merch such as T-shirts, eclipse posters, mugs, shot glasses and postcards

“How much is this poster?”

“Does this shirt come in medium?”

“Do you have the postal stamps?”

“I want a shot glass.”

“It has been non-stop here since 8 a.m.,” Cecilia Rhoda, the head of the Eclipse Ambassadors, said while also selling a couple of the T-shirts the town has for sale. “Everybody is super thrilled to be here.”

Bangor Daily News photo/Troy R. Bennett
EARLY ARRIVAL — Timber Stephenson of Cape Cod, and his dogs Shelby Rose and Sadie Mae, are camping in the woods near Greenville this week to be on hand for Monday’s eclipse. Stephenson said he came a week early to beat the crowds.

While the eclipse headquarters was hopping with people who had traveled from other places — visitors had placed pins on a map from 26 states as well as Australia and Jordan — other sections of the town and state were still relatively quiet on Sunday despite the looming celestial event. 

In Presque Isle, traffic appeared to be picking up on Saturday, but it was mostly people with in-state plates. 

In Greenville, the number of vehicles with out-of-state plates zipping through town appeared to grow throughout the day — with some of them getting caught in a speed trap set up by law enforcement in a 25 mph zone. 

One local compared the number of visitors to the typical crowd that might show up to Greenville for 4th of July — and predicted a much greater number of day-trippers on Monday.

Still, there was no shortage of enthusiasm in the crowd expecting to take in the eclipse over Moosehead Lake. 

Deb Ryan and Cherrie Gagnon had driven their bright yellow Deb’s on Wheels food truck to Greenville for the weekend. 

The pair renamed every menu item in honor of the eclipse. A hamburger is an eclipse, a cheeseburger is a solar eclipse, and a bacon cheeseburger is a total solar eclipse. A steak sub is simply called an annular. Onion rings are rings of fire. French fries smothered in chicken bacon ranch are now called the axial parallelism.

Timber Stephenson drove all the way to Greenville from Cape Cod, Massachusetts in his lime green Honda Element this week to see the event. 

Stephenson came a week early to beat what he thought would be huge crowds descending on the small town. Instead of booking a costly motel or cabin, he set up his tent in the woods, not far from town with his dogs Shelby Rose and Sadie Mae.

As of Saturday afternoon, the crowd had yet to materialize, and Stephenson was at a Greenville laundromat drying his belongings and using the WiFi.

“We have plenty of blankets to keep us warm,” he said “But it’s hard to stay dry with all the snow.”

Still, Stephenson was making the best of the situation and remained excited about the upcoming eclipse.

“I built a huge, four-stage snowman,” he said. “And I built an altar for the sun out of snow. It’s where I’m going to put my crystals and incense.”

Back in Houlton, the remainder of downtown was relatively quiet on Sunday, with available parking and short lines for the food trucks.

Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce said that it had been more crowded earlier in the day, and she estimated that there were about 2,000 visitors from away by early in the afternoon.

The Maine Visitor Information Center was somewhat busy with about 180 visitors by mid-afternoon.

“I helped people from Portland, Oregon who had planned on going to Texas for the eclipse, but came to Houlton for the weather,” Betsy Appleton, an eclipse ambassador said. 

The regional partnership manager with the Maine Tourism Association, Sheena McNally, said they had visitors at the state information center from Washington, Illinois, Virginia, Minnesota, Florida and Connecticut who were looking for the best places to watch the eclipse, parking locations and the events in Houlton, and who made a few inquiries about lodging/RV/camper parking. 

Tim Hortons on North Street in Houlton was busier than a normal Sunday but not packed with visitors to town, and the same was true for the Houlton Big Stop Restaurant, where there were visitors from Florida, Georgia and Washington. 

Bangor Daily News Photojournalist Troy R. Bennett and Assistant Editor Paula Brewer contributed to this story.

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.